When I wake up each morning, chances are it is to the sound of one of my sons. Whether it’s the voice of my 3-year-old or my 4-month-old that breaks my slumber, I find out when I come to. But they’re earlier risers than I am, and more to the point, they live under my roof.
Four decades ago, six in seven kids could say the same thing. Today, it’s five in seven. At current trends, when my boys are my age, perhaps half of American children will live with their dads.
It won’t be only on Father’s Day when they notice.
Sure, many of those future children will see their dads occasionally, as do many of those today who live only with their mothers. But you’ve probably heard the statistics before: Children living with two married parents are less likely to be poor and more likely to be healthy (physically and mentally) and to do well in school than kids who live with single parents or even cohabiting adults.
There’s another obvious but overlooked way boys from two-married-parent households will be better off. They’ll have more of a clue of what it means to be a good dad.
I’ve had few experiences more humbling than fatherhood. (Much of this, and more, I’m sure, applies also to motherhood.)
You learn quickly that babies might drink formula, but they don’t follow formulas. “If X is happening, do Y and you’ll get outcome Z” might work sometimes, but a lot of times it won’t.
You learn quickly that children have their own personalities and, within hours of a second child’s birth, how different they can be. All your practice dealing with one kid’s quirks suddenly looks pretty useless in raising No. 2.
You learn quickly that there’s little you can do about it if Junior doesn’t walk or talk as fast as his peers. If you’re wise, you realize, sooner or later, that you might not have had all that much to do with it if he is one of the fast learners.
And I think you learn, no matter what your relationship was like with your own dad, that there are things to learn from his influence in your life as you try to raise your own child(ren).
Maybe it’s the things he did right, maybe it’s the things he did wrong. My own dad was (is) such a great father, and my own shortcomings as a dad are so apparent to me, it’s all I can do to think about and try to adopt the things he did (does) well.
But even if your dad was a lousy, no-count cuss of an old man, you know why his lousy, no-count, accursed ways were wrong. And why it mattered.
If he was just a no-show, all you know is what absence is like.
Maybe you use his absence as motivation to be present for your own kids, and if so, good for you. But we humans tend to live out the behavior modeled for us, for better or worse. I have to think the rising numbers of children born out of wedlock — 41 percent of all births in 2010 — and/or living without their fathers reflect a pattern of fatherless men letting their own children grow up the same way.
Think of it as compound illegitimacy: The effects of one dad’s absence from his kids’ lives growing and growing, for them and their own children, for years to come.
We don’t talk about these things when we have “national conversations” about topics like inequality. But it’s hard to believe something like tax rates for the 1 percent has as much to do with inequality as a couple of generations of kids growing up with, and passing on, the sins of their fathers.
– By Kyle Wingfield